Feature Writer Terri Winaught

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Have You Heard of Mutt Muffs?

During the early 1980s, I traveled with guide dogs Becky and Haley. Becky, my first guide, was a Golden Retriever, and Haley, which I trained with several months after having my daughter, was a Black Lab.

Though I never attended any concerts with Haley, I did with Becky and that never posed any problems for me. I know, though, from sharing stories with friends that concert going can be problematic, depending on the music’s decibel level. Enter “Mutt Muffs,” an item which I had never heard of until a close friend shared an article published in the Republican Herald on December 25, 2013. As described in that article, written by the paper’s staff intern Gabriella O’Grady, Mutt Muffs were developed in 2005 by Michelle McGuire, who founded and owns a business she calls Safe and Sound Pets. The purpose of Mutt Muffs is to make doing things like attending concerts easier on Guide Dogs by blocking out some of the sound. (It is crucial to note that sound is not blocked entirely, which means that guides can still hear their owners’ commands.)

Lenny McHugh, a 67 year old Pottsville, PA native who is blind and was interviewed for the Republican Herald article, said that before he bought Mutt Muffs, he would either attend concerts without Toga, his current 7 year old guide, or wouldn’t go at all. Mutt Muffs, which are sized to each dog’s head and cost between $50 and $60, fit much like headphones.

For more information about this product, visit www.lennymchugh.com, republicanherald.com, and safeandsoundpets.com.

Tell us in Reader’s Forum if this is an item you would buy for your guide dog.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Waiting for Decades, Lasting Forever

Meet Donna Azar, a resident of Wexford, a northern suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a small child, she was removed from parents because they were abusive and addicted to drugs. Donna’s adoptive parents were loving, and she currently enjoys a wonderful relationship with her husband.

Now meet Lorin Mills. Like Donna, she was also taken away from parents with child and substance abuse issues and became part of a new family where consistency, stability, and love were the norms.

On the surface, these similarities may seem unremarkable, but what recently transformed this scenario from pedestrian to definitely unbelievable was Donna learning that Lorin is her sister!

“Lorin knew that I existed, but I didn’t know that she existed,” Donna shared with KDKA TV reporter Dave Crawley. (Dave Crawley has been employed by KDKA TV since 1988, his stories often being of a human interest nature.) “I had been searching for Donna for 17 years,” older sister Lorin continued. “When I went to adoption.com, I found her adoption and birth names and we then met on Facebook.”

Donna told Dave Crawley that her first conversation with her long lost sister was “absolutely wonderful.” It was Donna’s brother who took that first call and told his sister that she had a sister and a brother named John.

During her visit to Pittsburgh to be reunited with her younger sister after three decades, the two also shared their incredible story on Pittsburgh Today Live, a talk show which Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate airs Monday through Friday.

Lorin learned in 2012 that her birth mother had passed away, and found her biological father lying in the grass at a Santa Cruz, California park while high on meth and alcohol. “My husband was with me,” Lorin stated, adding how emotional that encounter was for her.

Sad though it is, if this is the lifestyle the birth father wants to continue to explore, there is also the happiness built on the hope that their sisterly bonds will become stronger and that they can soon add a much sought after brother to this potpourri of love.

Source: www.pittsburgh.cbslocal.com, Facebook, and Twitter. (The article on which this piece is based was tweeted 11 times, shared 12 times via email, and received 164 likes on Facebook.)

If you are searching, or plan to search for a family member who was placed for adoption, visit adoption.com, where you will also find a toll-free number which answers 24 hours a day.

Tell us in the Reader’s Forum if you believe miracles can still occur. If so, what holiday surprise have you experienced that you would define as “a miracle.” If some of you feel that miracles definitely do not exist and therefore feel that people put too much stock into what they call “miracles,” I’d love your thoughts too in the Reader’s Forum.

Happy and healthy holiday seasons to all.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Have a Merry Christmas Maybe?

The closer it gets to Christmas, the more we are encouraged to have “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and told that this season is “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many of us, this is indeed the case as we shop for gifts, send cards, enjoy the smell of freshly baked goods, and sing carols, but what about those who’ve recently lost loved ones? For example, I am close to someone who is grieving the loss of her best friend, that wonderful woman having died on December 8, 2013.

On national and international levels, South Africans mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela for ten days, and many U.S. communities, especially Newtown, Connecticut, acknowledged the tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. When we are hurting instead of happy and our grief feels amplified by the festivities around us, where can we turn? Fortunately, we have many options.

Since the support of family and friends can be a tremendously healing balm, reaching out to loved ones can be very helpful. If you decide instead of, or in addition to reaching out to those close to you, to seek professional help or peer support, there are many places to which you can turn. One such place is Nebraska’s Boys Town which was founded in the 19th century by Father Flannigan. Although their traditional focus has been helping parents and children, their 24-hour, toll-free hotline is open to everyone, that number being 1-800-448-3000.

Another helpful 24-hour toll-free hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK. (This is part of a network of 160 hotlines that exist in all 50 states. To learn more, visit www.suicidepreventionhotlines.org.)

Last, but certainly far from least, is a phone-based service called “A Warm Line.” A Warm Line is staffed by trained phone support specialists who have experienced mental health crises from which they are either in recovery or have recovered. These trained peers also listen with empathy, and make referrals to community resources as needed. According to People’s Oakland, a local mental health organization, one in four individuals, or 25 percent of the U.S. population, will experience a mental health crisis. Although some Warm Lines are available 24 hours, many are not. Neither do all Warm Lines have toll-free numbers. If you want to reach one that is toll-free, visit www.warmlines.org or email me at [email protected] to get Warm Line listings from your state.

If pain is preventing you from celebrating this year’s holiday season, here’s hoping that, with the power of your faith and support from those who love you, your heart will be healed, and your mind made more peaceful.

Have a blest holiday season, including a meaningful celebration of the 7 African principles of Kwanzaa, which begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st.

Resources: www.peoplesoakland.org, boystown.org, www.suicidepreventionhotlines.org, and www.warmlines.org.

Feel free to let us know in Readers Forum what has helped you to get through the holidays while grieving a loved one’s death.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – A Legacy of Inclusion

When Nelson Mandela was born in 1918, his first name was not the “Nelson” by which the world has come to know him. Rather, Mr. Mandela was given a more traditional African first name at birth. The South Africa into which Mandela was born was a country where citizens who were black and other persons of color lived under the racially segregated, white minority-dominated system of government known as Apartheid. Until he moved to Johannesburg in 1941 at the age of 23, Mr. Mandela lived in a tiny village, the name of which wasn’t mentioned when CBS News profiled his life on December 5, 2013.

In addition to being college educated, Nelson Mandela was also South Africa’s first black lawyer and co-founder of a legal clinic for citizens of color. The philosophy with which he viewed his country’s government was one of nonviolence, based on Mandela’s belief that change could be achieved by negotiation and peaceful demonstrations. Even though the activist into which Mandela was being transformed had attended African National Congress meetings, first informally and then served formally in several secretarial capacities, Mandela did not allow himself to be influenced by others whose approaches to change at least bordered on violence. All of that changed, however, in December 1960, when South African police killed 69 black demonstrators who were assembled peacefully in Sharpeville. From 1960 until 1963, when Nelson Mandela received a life sentence to prison for high treason, the man who now believed in violence to resolve difficult issues was living up to his African name which meant “trouble maker.” The prison to which Mr. Mandela was sent was on Robin Island, South Africa’s equivalent to America’s former facility at Alcatraz. About Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, ABC Talk Show host Lars Larsen said, “that prison on Robin’s Island was nothing like what we have in this country. Mandela was allowed only yearly visits from his family and he could only receive letters twice a year.” While imprisoned, this activist, who would one day become President, was cut off from not only his family but also the rest of the world.

During the 1980s, Congress voted to impose sanctions on South Africa to protest Mandela’s imprisonment and the system of Apartheid. Then-President Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa on the basis that “they would not work.” Reagan’s opposition may also have been due, in part, to Mr. Mandela’s affiliation with the African National Congress, some of whose members were Communists. (It is worth noting, in fact, that, because of that affiliation, Mr. Mandela’s name was on this country’s “terrorist” list until 2008.)

On February 11, 1990, at the age of 71, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, though he would later confide to President Clinton during a visit to the United States that he “didn’t feel free.” “I was afraid and filled with hate,” Mandela continued “but then I realized that as long as I felt this way, I wasn’t really free because they still had me, and I wanted to be free.”

When he became South Africa’s first black President in 1994, Nelson Mandela crafted a new Constitution which established a Democratic, inclusive, multiracial government. In an interview with CBS in which he reflected on former President Mandela’s life and legacy, Bill Clinton described his longtime friend as “a wily politician.” As a man who sought reconciliation without thought of retribution, Mr. Mandela even included his former jailers and others who had been part of the Apartheid system in his government. During his presidency, Mr. Mandela changed the face and image of South Africa and changed the world in the process. “To go from prisoner to president shows the change that can be achieved,” President Barack Obama noted on December 5, 2013. Because of his achievements and significant impact on the world, President Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with former President de Klerk

In 2004, statesman Mandela retired from public office at the age of 84. Though officially retired, former President Mandela remained active in world affairs. In 2005, for instance, President Bush met with Mr. Mandela, who clearly expressed his opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq. In 2001, Mr. Mandela was just as firm in his support of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as he would later be opposed to U.S. intervention in Iraq.

In June, 2013, Nelson Mandela was rushed to a South African hospital where he remained for three months, during which time he struggled to recover from reoccurring lung infections. Even when released from the hospital early in September, his condition remained critical. In fact, he received around the clock care in an environment much like a hospital’s intensive care unit. However, Mr. Mandela remained in critical condition until his death at home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013. During news coverage of 95 year old Mandela’s passage from earthly life, mourners could be seen in front of the statesman’s home singing his praises. “Both Black and White South Africans will mourn Mandela’s death,” CBS news anchor Scott Pelley said. As a tribute to her longtime friend, renowned writer Dr. Maya Angelou wrote a poetic tribute to Mr. Mandela entitled, “His Life Is Done.”

Despite the hardships Nelson Mandela endured, he changed not only his nation; he also made the world a better place through his multi-layered legacy of persistence, inclusion and forgiveness.

Sources: news reports on KDKA TV, Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate; CBS News Anchor Scott Pelley; comments from President Obama; and reflections from former President Bill Clinton.

In 1991, Nelson Mandela visited Pittsburgh and in 1999, Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood established “Peace Park” in Nelson Mandela’s honor. Tell us in Readers Forum if Nelson Mandela visited your city or town of residence and what your local community has done to honor him.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Breaking Barriers for Persons with Disabilities

As of December, 2013, the world’s population was 7.5 billion. 1 billion, or 15 percent, are persons with disabilities. Eighty percent of individuals living with disabilities live in developing nations and, too often, experience poverty and social exclusion.

“Disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will experience some sort of temporary or permanent impairment in life,” U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon told a high level meeting of the U.N. Assembly. Stevie Wonder, who is active in the U.N.’s disability initiatives, stated that less than 5 percent of materials available worldwide are in accessible formats, which he understandably deems “Unacceptable.”

On December 3 of this year, the U.N. will raise awareness of the plight of persons with disabilities by declaring it “International Day of Persons with Disabilities.” On a U.N. level, there will be forums on the treaty dealing with book accessibility, and another about the need for employers to engage in conversations about persons with mental health issues.

To learn more about events worldwide, visit http://www.un.org/disabilities/ and U.N. World News.

Tell us in Readers Forum what your community is doing to acknowledge and celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – What if?

For a young child, “what if” lends itself to a number of possibilities like, “What if I didn’t even have to go to school? I hate it and don’t want to go.” An adult scenario might be: “What if my husband and I had never married because I married his best friend?”

The “What If” statement I will be focusing on in this article is one which historians have considered and written alternate histories accordingly: what if President Kennedy had never been shot on Friday, November 22, 1963? An extension of that scenario is, “what if the 35th President of the United States had still been shot, but had survived his wounds?”

Probably anyone who was alive on that fateful Friday knows where he/she was when getting that news and what he/she was doing when American and World History changed forever. Because the Overbrook School for the Blind had a Reading Readiness grade which followed Kindergarten, I was a ten-year-old third-grader. That Friday afternoon I was in a class which bored me to tears when my principal announced over the Personal Address System that everyone was to report to the auditorium. As I quietly entered, the organ was softly playing “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me.”

“Oh, my,” I murmured, not wishing to be heard and chastised. Once we were all quietly seated, the organist stopped playing, and the Principal, Mr. Kauffmann said, “at one this afternoon in Dallas, Texas, the President was shot and pronounced dead.” While my reaction was to be both numbed and stunned, many of the older girls began to cry. We prayed the Our Father and school was dismissed for the weekend.

In an E-mail a friend recently forwarded, I was given five historical perspectives on how various events might have played out had Kennedy lived.

A Japanese documentarian posits that Vietnam would never have escalated into the war being so vividly portrayed on American televisions as the 1960s progressed. Just two weeks before his death, J.F.K. had plans in place to remove military advisors by 1965.

Jeff Greenfield, a political analyst who authored a book and wrote in the Dallas Morning News about that troubled time suggest that we would have moved closer to meaningful dialogue with Cuban ruler Fidel Castro. This possibility was based on Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and “Bay of Pigs.” Furthermore, Kennedy is alleged to have stated that one should not trust that just because someone is a military man that he knows a “damn” about what he is doing.

On a more personal level, many who were closest to Kennedy were well aware of his extramarital affairs. Not only were these being prepared to be revealed two weeks prior to the Presidential assassination, but also some unsettling allegations about Lyndon Johnson having taken kickbacks and having obtained money in ways less than stellar. None of this was readily reported, however, given how shaken and traumatized America already was. Speculation is that the President and his brother Bobby, then U.S. Attorney-General, would have used all of the power at their disposal to keep that information from getting out.

Two final history revisions are that George Wallace would have become President in 1968, in part at least because the Civil Rights Act would not have passed, and that the second President Bush would have lost his bid for office in 2000. It motivates one to wonder how history would have been impacted 50 years later. It’s a given, however, that such a question can never be answered. Few, if any, would debate that what happened on that clear Dallas day 50 years ago this Friday forever changed the course of history both in America and in the world.

Sources: Jeff Greenfield who wrote about this topic in the Dallas Morning News, and Koji Matsutani: Virtual J.F.K.: If J.F.K. Had Lived: a 2008 documentary about the President’s planned withdrawal from Vietnam.

Tell us in the Reader’s Forum how you might envision an America in which J.F.K. was either never shot or had survived his wounds.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – An Accessible Phone From Sprint

Although cell phone navigation hasn’t always been easy for persons who are blind or vision impaired, much has been done over the past several years to enhance accessibility. For example, under the late Steve Jobs’ leadership, Apple’s iPhone was a resounding success, with voiceover accessibility right out of the box.

For persons who want a basic phone with text-to-speech accessibility and don’t mind being unable to download Apps, as can be done on the iPhone and other smart phones, the Kyocera Kona offers exactly this to Sprint’s portfolio of products. This phone, which has been available since September 13, 2013, is described in detail in a press release sent out on September 6, 2013, from Sprint representatives in Overland Park, Kansas.

Since I have been without an accessible cell phone for some time, I ordered the Kyocera Kona from Sprint telesales on November 1 and received it by November 5. Although I am still getting used to the speech and navigation commands, I am finding it helpful and couldn’t be more delighted to be able to text again. (Though I have yet to do so, I will probably order Braille information from Sprint which is mentioned on their website along with the option of Large-Print materials.) In addition to variable text-to-speech capability, this easy-to-use flip phone also has varying fonts to accommodate many degrees of vision.

To learn more about the Kyocera Kona, call Sprint telesales at 1-800-SPRINT1 (1-800-777-4681) or visit www.sprint.com. Although I ordered my phone by dialing the above number, a different number is on Sprint’s website, and both numbers are toll-free. To receive a copy of the September 6 press release, Email: [email protected]. If you go to Sprint’s website, arrow or tab to the Search Box and type “Kyocera Kona” and you can obtain information not only about that phone but also about phones for persons who are deaf, have a hearing impairment, or speech impairment. You can also like Sprint on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, find them on YouTube or join the Sprint community.

Tell us in the Reader’s Forum if you have used the Kyocera Kona and how accessible you found it to be.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Song Lyrics and Blindness

Every Sunday night, a popular Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania radio station airs a three hour program they call, “The Sunday Night Oldies Diner.” The first song played on the evening of November 3, 2013, was “Baby, Baby Don’t Cry,” released by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on December 12, 1968. The point of this soulful Motown release is that a woman need not cry about someone who “really doesn’t deserve her” because standing right there is someone who would do anything to show her love. Though I had always paid little attention to most of the lyrics, I was struck tonight by the words: “Stone blind and out of his mind is what he has to be.” While I certainly understand the context in which that line was said and still like the song, I just couldn’t help being struck by what could also be considered a negative connotation. Do only people who are “stone blind” fall out of love with people who still love them?

Further reflection on songs with the word “blind” got me thinking about the popular September, 1958 Hit, “To Know Him Is To Love Him.” In this song, which the Teddy Bears sang and music mogul Phil Spector wrote, the lead vocalist asks twice, “Why can’t he see? How blind can he be?” (Lest I seem too negative here, let me continue by pointing out that Spector was inspired by his father’s tombstone which reads: “To know him was to love him,” and I find that a touching remembrance of a life well lived with love.”) While I couldn’t help noticing the blindness lyrics and also discovered on YouTube that this ballad has more than 2,600 likes and 94 dislikes, I found one dislike comment to be over the top: “That’s such a dog of a song that I don’t see how anybody likes it.”

Two final songs on which I’d like to comment are the heartfelt, bluesy Etta James ballad, “I’d rather Go Blind,” and the 1961 release “Be Fair,” by the Gallahads.

The Etta James rhythm and blues ballad was written in 1967 by Billy Foster and Ellington Jordan. The theme of this poignant song was that a person who feared that her relationship was about to end would rather “go blind” than to see the love of her life first talk to and then walk away with another woman. Woven into the pathos and passion with which this Etta James selection from her album “Tell Mama” were the lyrics: “You know, I’d rather go, I’d rather go blind, boy than to watch you walk away from me.” Were Etta James still alive (Etta’s death occurred on January 25, 2012 at age 73 from leukemia and possibly dementia), I would love first to hug her and share her pain and then gently point out that even when one is blind and therefore can’t physically see the ultimate betrayal of him leaving, it wouldn’t comfort her much. A person who is blind can still hear either fleeting footsteps or equally final sounds like a car door slamming and that vehicle then speeding away in what almost seems to be race mode, taking a piece of the one who is hurting.

The last song, released in 1961 by The Gallahads, is truly bad. “Be Fair” is about a blind boy who implores his girlfriend, with whom he is crossing a street, to be “kind because it’s no fun being blind.” By the end of the song, believing that she is being unfaithful, he tells her to let go of his hand and adds that “from now on, I’ll just feel my own way!” How sad that any song or piece of writing would depict blindness and therefore persons who are blind as so pathetic and helpless!

To conclude on a positive note, my aim here wasn’t just to criticize; especially since I think that most of the songwriters meant no malice. Instead, my point was to share some thoughts on and ways in which songs and songwriters seem to depict blindness, though we know better, don’t we?

Sources: YouTube.com, Wikipedia.org, lyricsmode.com, and azlyrics.com. On YouTube, you can listen to all of the songs listed above, and from Wikipedia, you can learn who wrote the songs and when they were recorded/released.

As always, your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – A Silent Brilliance

“He’s the most wonderful little boy in the world!” Alexander Graham Bell said of the then ten year old Charles Allen Crane of Canada. Just what caused this gifted inventor to make that statement, and who was Charles Allen Crane?

Charles Allen Crane, or Charlie as he was often called, was born in Toronto, Canada on April 10, 1906. His 6 older brothers and sisters had eagerly looked forward to the baby’s arrival, and he was pleasant and went through all of the normal developmental milestones of babbling, cooing, and crawling. Something totally unexpected happened, though, when Charlie was 9 months old; he developed cerebrospinal meningitis, a disease so severe that it can kill within hours.

Although baby Charlie survived, his auditory and visual nerves were permanently damaged, leaving him both totally deaf and blind. Totally distraught, Charlie’s parents visited not only the top specialists in their native Canada but also in England. Having been told that nothing could be done, the parents taught the boy a rudimentary sign language which only they understood.

At age 10, Crane was admitted to the School for the Deaf in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though the youngster had no vocabulary at that time, he learned the manual alphabet so quickly that his vocabulary exceeded 2,000 words within 6 months.

Like all of us, there were subjects, like Math, in which ten year old Charlie did not excel, but he more than compensated through his excellence in English, Greek history, Latin, and botany. In botany, for example, Crane could touch a plant just briefly and be able to identify its species. Similarly, when it came to meeting people, “you could shake Charlie’s hand just once, and he would remember you years later,” several people, including his sister said about him.

After graduating high school in British Columbia, Crane attended the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he was a student for only one year because funds ran out for Charlie to keep using an “intervener.” (That word was used to describe an individual who spelled the manual alphabet into Charlie’s hand and, in turn, used Charlie’s responses for lectures and exams.)

Although Charles’ university studies were followed by employment as a publicist, that, too, lasted only a year, after which he worked the rest of his life making brooms in a sheltered workshop. Though this accomplished and well educated adult was generally a happy man who loved what he did, he nonetheless published a poignant piece in a 1949 newspaper in which Charles described himself as being “in fairly good health, but having the double disabilities of deafness and blindness and longing for communication with others.” He went on to describe himself as both lonely and alone, even giving his address should anyone wish to visit him at any time.

Until his death from pneumonia in 1965, Charles immersed himself in books, more than 10,000 of which were donated to a library and disability support center named in his honor at the University of British Columbia. That facility is one where there is a recording studio, a reading room, Braille materials, and E-text readers, all due to the legacy of someone who once wrote that he wanted to be a “good citizen.”

Although it would be another 40 years before another deaf/blind person would enroll at the University of British Columbia, I wouldn’t be surprised if that individual and future students will forever consider him a “good citizen” who left a truly rich legacy.

Source: A Good Citizen: May 2013 issue of Trek Magazine with photos by Geoff Lister.

If any of our Canadian readers especially know Charles Allen Crane or knew of him before reading this article, we’d love to hear from you in the Reader’s Forum.

Feature Writer Terri Winaught – A Gallant Heart

“Gallant” is an adjective which describes a person whose behavior is brave or courageous. Synonyms to gallant include: heroic, lionhearted, and chivalrous.

Many Ziegler writers have submitted, and continue to present articles about experiences with dog guides that show courage, for example, the courage to form the trusting bond that becomes a cohesive team.

I first learned about A Gallant Heart this past summer when a close friend, who has used a Seeing Eye® dog for years, told me about a hero dog event where there was a representative from this newly established school. My friend continued by saying that A Gallant Heart had a 7 month old Doberman puppy that was amazingly calm for being in an unfamiliar setting with so many strangers. With such positive feedback from someone whose opinions I have always respected, I just had to learn more about this training facility.

First, though, let me explain that a “hero” dog event is one in which the public gets to see how dogs from a variety of facilities are trained to work with the police and the military; how they are trained to sniff out bombs, drugs, and varied arson accelerants; and, of course, how to guide.

By E-mailing Rebecca Floyd, A Gallant Heart’s Executive Director, I learned that the school was established in 2009 in Madison, Mississippi, where it still is located. As a 501C(3) nonprofit, the school’s mission is to match persons who are blind with healthy, well-trained guide dogs. Since there are differing opinions regarding whether a dog should be placed only with a person who is totally blind versus a person that has low vision or vision impairment, I asked Ms. Floyd, a totally blind dog user since 1964, to share her philosophy.

“Although we will place a dog with someone who has low vision or a vision impairment, that person must have no more than 20/800 after the best possible correction in the best eye,” Director Floyd responded via E-mail. Two additional questions I raised were whether persons with hearing impairments met the center’s qualifying criteria and whether someone with an orthopedic challenge could receive a dog guide. Ms. Floyd responded that if a person with an orthopedic disability could still walk at least half of a mile, he/she could get a dog. As for blind individuals with hearing impairments, Rebecca explained that if the potential dog guide user could still hear well enough to interpret traffic, he/she could receive a dog.

A Gallant Heart uses Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. Although this school is working hard to establish its own breeding program, donations of the above-mentioned breeds are always welcomed. All dogs brought into this facility are tested for temperament, diseases common to specific breeds and conditions that could negatively impact the ability of the dog to work well as a guide. The school takes the additional steps of making sure that the dog has attended obedience class while at its puppy raiser’s home for 12 to 16 months, and has earned a Good Citizen certificate as well as international certification as a therapy dog to ensure quality before it is placed with its new owner.

The dog and student are trained as a team in the community where the person wanting a dog resides. Although there are occasional exceptions in which individuals are trained at the school, this only happens if there are several students near enough to the school that it would make sense to train them at the same time. Another situation in which the student might first go to the school would be if there were several dogs that seem compatible and a decision on the best possible match needed to be made. Though I was informed that community-based training lasts between a week and ten days, I was unclear if that timeline applied both to new trainees, those who are returning, or both.

Some things about which I am clear, though, are that puppy raising and the dog training are free. When someone serves as a puppy raiser, all of the dog’s food, equipment, veterinary care and obedience training are paid for by the school, not the family. Once the student/dog team has been matched and trained, all of those services were provided for free.

Establishing a guide dog school as a person who is blind and a longtime dog user as was a dream Rebecca Floyd had to put on hold until she retired from Mississippi’s Advocacy and Protection Department. To help fund her dream, you can find a variety of upcoming late October, early November and December fundraising events by visiting www.gallanthearts.org. Additional monies come from behests, corporations, foundations, and individual donors.

For more information, E-mail: [email protected]; phone 1-601-8536996. You may also like the school on Facebook. You can also hear a graduation in progress, the voices of school staff, and hear a dog whimpering and seeming to impatiently say, “Get this show on the road!” on YouTube.

I’m eager to hear in the Reader’s Forum if you have heard of A Gallant Heart before. What do you think of them if you have had prior contact? What are your thoughts about community-based training as opposed to training being done at a school.